A surprisingly poignant and affecting teenage drama, The Spectacular Now (2013 dir. James Ponsoldt) captures the trials and tribulations of two young lovers who are the same age but at completely different stages in their lives. A synopsis:
Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whiskey-fortified thirst-master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finecky hovering over him. She’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. While Aimee has dreams of a future, Sutter lives in the impressive delusion of a spectacular now, yet somehow, they’re drawn together. (source)
When I started watching this film, I felt this pervading sense of dread, as if I were about to watch yet another mind-numbing teen drama. Luckily, I was completely wrong, as The Spectacular Now proved itself to be a drama for the teenage bracket with a good amount of authenticity and heart. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley sparkle in this film. Teller is particularly impressive as the charming, yet also kind of obnoxious, party animal Sutter Keely. I partly watched this film after being so stunned by his performance in Whiplash (2014), and in comparison with that, I was not let down one bit. Miles Teller is fast proving himself to be an actor to watch from now on. Meanwhile, Shailene Woodley again shows us how she works best at portraying real people with real flaws. I was reminded of Woodley’s emotive performance in The Fault In Our Stars (2014), with her signature subtle and naturalistic acting ability that works its magic by showing more than it tells.
I think what I really loved the most about The Spectacular Now was its authenticity. This is no Dawson’s Creek style of drama, where the teenagers speak with the language of a Ph.D thesis. The dialogue just seems real, and it is to both Teller’s and Woodley’s credit that it never feels cliched or forced. Each interjection of mumbling, giggling, and other non-verbal behaviours, comes across as genuine and typical for people at that particular age and stage. Additionally, the decisions around costuming and set design also seem very real for these characters. Often in teen drama films you’ll see female characters who are meant to disappear into the wallpaper, the mousy girls who are supposedly ignored by boys, but the actresses will be stunningly beautiful which makes the premise completely unbelievable. In The Spectacular Now, you truly believe that Woodley’s Aimee Finecky is someone who gets looked over in favour of others, but has a lot more to offer below the surface.
Some may say that this film feels slightly long for its runtime, and that may be true; at roughly 90 minutes, it does feel as if it’s much longer. But for me, that’s reflective of the film’s contemplative and realistic nature. The film doesn’t rush past certain moments, but prefers to look at them with a magnifying glass. One potentially awkward example of this is Aimee and Sutter’s first sexual experience with one another, which seems to be observed in real time until the inevitable fade to black. Any lesser teen drama would glamourise this kind of experience, but The Spectacular Now prefers to observe it realistically, which in comparison with other films involves a more direct gaze. The tone of the film is never ponderous, but it is definitely slower than others, which some may feel is ultimately to the film’s overall benefit.
The Spectacular Now is truly a film about what it’s like to be a teenager in love with another teenager, and the conflicts that can arise during that transitional stage; when both are at the jumping off point where you have the choice to either stay safe, or to leave the nest. As aforementioned, this film’s real asset is its genuineness and authenticity, as well as Teller and Woodley’s performances, which are just as great as each other. If you’re looking for a drama with heart and a nice romance without the saccharine sensibilities of the genre, this might just be the perfect one to watch.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film at Amazon!
Nice review, Anna. I saw this several months ago after being DESPERATE to see it. I never reviewed it as I couldn’t decide how I felt about it. I think I was mainly disappointed. I really hated Teller’s character. Also, it was compared to Say Anything, which I love, but they’re not similar in the slightest. I should maybe give it another try sometime. I do agree it’s better than a lot of the braindead shit aimed at teenagers. Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
Thanks heaps! 😀 See, I’m not sure I would compare this to Say Anything at all, whoever did that was silly. I love Say Anything too though!
This movie really surprised me. Teller surprised me more. Prior to “Spectacular” I hadn’t cared for him at all. He was really good in it.
Prior to seeing this and Whiplash I’d only ever seen him in Divergent, which was fairly lame, so I’ve been really impressed by him recently. Definitely a surprising film!
Great review! Sometimes I feel like I’m getting too old to enjoy those teenage coming of age films anymore, but I did enjoy this one. Great performances.
Thanks heaps Brittani! Yeah, sometimes I wonder if there’s an age limit to teenage dramas, but not when they’re as good as this.
Really impressed with Woodley in Fault in our stars. Really natural. Teller was great in Whiplash, especially when he asks the girl out. He’s would have been mid twenties when filmed. I guess he drinks a lot of mineral water. Were the actors what appealed to most when deciding to see the film?
Oh yeah, Teller has to be definitely using some stem cell technology to stay young or something. He looked just like a senior high schooler in this. I think what made me decide to watch this was the Teller appeal after watching Whiplash, plus the trailer is also quite great!
Sounds a good a match in the film as it sounds on paper 🙂
I still haven’t seen this but I am hoping it’s going to turn up on UK Netflix soon because it really sounds like something I would enjoy.
I hope it does too so you can see it!
Good review. It’s one of the rare movies about teenagers that actually deal with the reality of failure and discuss it to its fullest extent.
Thanks Dan, definitely a rare one!
“The best thing about now, is that there’s another one tomorrow.” I’m sorry, I just puked all over your blog. Like, everywhere. Even in the ceiling tiles. I’ll get a towel.
Teenagers eat that stuff up with a spoon! Not the vomit, though, hopefully.
I nominated you for an award. https://vinnieh.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/my-third-liebster-award/
Thank you again Vinnie! 🙂
Don’t mention it, I like nominating people for these awards.
Great review! The Spectacular Now was really such a surprising movie to watch. I agree so much that it has the same themes of teen love, the future, etc. as other YA movies but it doesn’t try so hard to deliver or make the characters cliche. Love Teller and Woodley too.
Thanks Katy! 🙂 Definitely a surprising one, it totally exceeded my expectations.
Nice review and a fantastic movie. It should really have gotten more recognition!
Thanks heaps! 😀
As someone who grew up in the 90’s I have to say that this film is a massive bucket of shit. It put me off miles telller for life. I can’t stand him
Haha! Tell it like it is! Miles Teller was definitely pretty obnoxious in this though.
Kids Larry Clark , Harmony Korine much better
I actually haven’t seen that one, but have always meant to. Consider it escalated on the list!
I like your blog. Good work!
The Spectacular Now was one of my favorites in 2013.
Thank you, glad you enjoy my blog! 😀